Just got back from a trip to my chocolate supplier–a wonderful wholesaler called Made In France that imports (duh!) French foods and sells them to upscale restaurants throughout the year. In the holiday season, they have warehouse sales open to the public, so I went there today, and came home with (finally!) a decent chocolate supply. I now have 12 kg of dark chocolate (a bit over 25 lbs) and 6 kg of white chocolate (a bit over 13 lbs). It’s not a huge amount of chocolate (circa 40 lbs), but it should be enough for one decent project plus emergency supplies.
(I should maybe point out that I can’t eat chocolate, at least not more than an ounce at a time–it makes me hyper. So don’t think of my chocolate supply as “eating chocolate” (that would be excessive)–think of it as craft supplies. It’s almost impossible to make any reasonable amount of chocolates with under five pounds, and fifteen to twenty pounds is much better. So this is really not as much chocolate as it sounds. Honest. 😉 )
Anyway, I was excited to see that my favorite French chocolate company has a new variety out! It’s called Araguani, and at 72% cocoa solids is their highest cocoa-solids chocolate. I sneaked a piece while still in the warehouse (I was going to buy the package anyway, so what the hell) and decided that while it was good, it wasn’t going to unseat my favorite anytime soon, so I only bought 3 kg of it. It’s good, but surprisingly mild–a rounded cocoa impact with a hint of smokiness to it, maybe just a *trifle* too bitter. Reminded me a little bit of an espresso-roast coffee. I’m going to experiment with it and see what it works well in.
I was also pleased to find a package of El Rey’s Icoa! This is a Venezuelan product that is (as far as I know) unique among white chocolates–it’s made with nondeodorized cocoa butter, so it tastes like a light milk chocolate even though it has no cocoa at all.
(A short explanation of chocolate manufacture: cacao beans are about 55% cocoa butter and 45% cocoa solids (not entirely sure; the percentages may be reversed). During manufacture, the beans are roasted and then ground. At that point, a good chunk of the cocoa butter is usually separated out and either diverted to the pharmaceutical/cosmetics trade (it’s used as a skin softening agent) or purified and re-added to the chocolate later. (Good dark chocolates frequently have extra cocoa butter added to improve the texture/fluidity.)
For white chocolate, the cocoa butter is separated out, and typically deodorized–cocoa butter picks up odors very easily, so it’s treated with a steam treatment (I think) that removes all the “off” flavors. Then vanilla flavoring, milk powder, and sugar are added, making white chocolate.
With El Rey’s white chocolate (brand name Icoa), the cocoa butter is not deodorized, so it retains the “nose” of the cocoa even though it doesn’t have any cocoa powder. it’s a wonderful white chocolate, but unfortunately hard to find.)
Anyway, I immediately loaded up with 3kg of Icoa, and then added 3 kg of Valrhona’s Ivoire, which is a wonderful white chocolate with AWESOME texture/mouthfeel, and the most amazing vanilla flavor…I do not typically like white chocolate but I love Ivoire. It’s got a rich, creamy vanilla taste, and it melts in your mouth. Not oversweetened at all–rich rather than sweet. I strongly recommend it.
The rest was more or less bread-and-butter: two packages (6 kg total) of Extra Bitter, my favorite Valrhona chocolate, and 1 package (3 kg) of Pur Caraibe, my second favorite. Extra Bitter is a 61% cocoa solids dark chocolate, has a warm, smooth flavor (think strong Kona coffee, with a touch of Colombian), and an excellent texture. Pur Caraibe is a bit more intense and slightly earthier/spicier, but in the same class. They’re both great for chocolate work.
And then I got a small bar of Valrhona’s Le Lait (their standard milk chocolate), which is OK, and a smoked duck breast that I bought after sampling their tasting table. It blew my mind away. Smoky and rich, like the hams you wish you could buy. Wonderful stuff. I may be decadent and eat it on sliced bread this week. If I take the fat layer off the breast it might even not be too awful for me. 🙂 It’s not cheap, but I figure a little goes a long way. And damn, is it tasty.
Tonight my friend is coming over to help me cast the other half of this chocolate mold, and then we’re going to try casting the chocolate…will be really cool to see what happens.
By the way, you may be amused: the line in the warehouse at these sales is always extremely long, so I brought along a spindle and a pair of knitting needles. I had already spun 30-40 yards of black satin angora (gorgeous stuff–fluff of angora and the sheen of silk), and while I was in line I spun 30-40 yards of 50-50 brown cashmere/silk yarn, and plied the two together. The result is a silver-to-smoke colored ragg yarn, 2-ply, in the 40-50 wpi range, silk/cashmere and satin angora. I spun up the cashmere/silk, plied it all, and started knitting a swatch while I was in line. (Yeah, it was a bloody long line.) It looks like it’s going to be gorgeous, but I need to do a bit more work on it before I can know whether it’s what I want. I may wind up dyeing the cashmere/silk (or just using dyed silk) to get a more even yarn color. We’ll see.
Oh yeah! I found a really cool toy while surfing eBay. It’s a Unimat mini-lathe that is really more like the Erector set of machining tools–it has at least six functions, and you can use it to machine almost any small part. But that’s not what interests me, of course…it’s the fact that I could use it TO TURN MINI SPINDLES!!! The Unimat is the expensive version (runs about $300), but it turns out I can get a cheap wood mini-lathe for about $25-50, and that would be plenty fine for turning silver spindles. (Use silverclay, let it dry out, then turn the dried clay on the lathe.) As soon as I have a free moment, I plan to get one…it would be very cool indeed to be able to make better-balanced silverclay spindles than the ones I can do at present. Or even to machine my own metal spindles…brass is way more durable than silver.
So, lots of cool stuff.
Meanwhile, work-wise, it’s finally dawned on me that what I’m being asked to do is build a Professional Services division more or less from the ground up. This is really laughable considering that I have absolutely zero background in either Professional Services or wireless (cellular) technology, and my boss has zero background in professional services, either. The VP is experienced in it, but is located in the UK and is extremely busy with something else, so I haven’t been able to get any guidance whatsoever. (I had a very amusing conversation with another executive at work, which basically summed up to, “Wait–they’re letting you run around WITHOUT ADULT SUPERVISION???”) So the whole thing is totally absurd.
Fortunately, this is the sort of thing I’m good at, and the kind of challenge I enjoy, so I’ve basically dived into it. One of my first rules is that Nothing Is As Complicated As It Looks, so I’ve been sorting out the details of billing, accounting, margin and revenue targets, sales forecasting, and so on. It’s pretty complicated but is basically logical–you try to figure out what money is likely to come in, how to find the resources to do whatever you’re committing to do, and work out how to charge people and how to make sure product gets delivered, and so on. I’m familiar with that kind of logistical thinking since I have a lot of project management experience.
The other thing I’ve been doing is going around building relationships throughout the organization–finding the right contacts and getting their views on things. So while I still know relatively little about wireless technology, at least I know the right set of people to talk to–which is well over half the battle when it comes to problem-solving. I’ve been slowly assembling a picture of the company, how it operates, and what the major challenges are, structurally and market-wise–and what I’ll be able to fix, and what should be left alone.
The net upshot of it all is that I think I will actually succeed at what I’m doing–which, all things considered, is utterly absurd. You do not take someone off the street, dump them into something at which they have no experience, and ask them to put together a strategy for developing an organization, without advice or guidance. On the other hand, this is the kind of thing I love doing, and I think I’m actually going to be able to do it. The company is on break for the next two weeks, but I’m on the roster of “authorized to work”–I’m going to spend the next two weeks putting together next year’s plan and preparing to review it with the VP of Prof Svcs.
I love this kind of thing.
Off to finish my chocolate mold and try my chocolate casting…